The Northern Cross-Island Highway (北部橫貫公路; běibù héngguàn guānglù; Provincial Highway 7) is one of three spectacular routes that cross the mountainous interior of Taiwan, connecting the western plains with the east coast. The northern route starts in Daxi, around 35km south of Taipei, and follows the Dahan River before crossing the lofty Xueshan range and joining the main Yilan to Lishan road at Qilan, 120km away in Yilan county.
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The official starting point for the Northern Cross-Island Highway is the historic town of DAXI (大溪; dàxī), worth a pit-stop for its two old streets lined with ornate Chinese baroque architecture (this Daxi is not to be confused with the east-coast surfing centre). From the bus station, Zhongyang Road (中央路; zhōngyāng lù) is to the left of the main entrance, crammed with small stores and a daily wet market in the mornings. Walk north up here to the end and you should hit Heping Road (和平路; hépíng lù), Daxi’s gorgeous “old street”, crammed with craft stores, teashops and restaurants. The elaborate facades on display are some of the best preserved in Taiwan, most dating from the grand redevelopment of the town that began in 1912, the finely carved arches and beams etched with the names of the trading companies that once operated here. Many of the stores sell Daxi’s most celebrated snack, preserved tofu (dòugān), which is usually flavoured and much tastier than it sounds – Hwang Ryh Shiang (黃日香; huáng rì xiāng) at 56 Heping Rd is one of the oldest and most popular tofu sellers.